I posted a version of the following to Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council of Foreign Relations. I consider Laurie, who has been honored with Pulitzer and Polk and Peabody awards, to be the best health and science reporter in the world. I wrote to compliment her on her two-part series on the plague of Ebola and the utter uselessness ( verging on farce ) of WHO, the World Health Organization, in dealing with it, which she's posted to her Facebook list.
Laurie, you are the best. They should put you in charge and give you unlimited power! Reading your two reports is heartbreaking. It is AIDS all over again. In fact it is AIDS as it still now is.
In the past few weeks I have become overwhelmed with new sadness. I have discovered that research into an AIDS cure and vaccine has all but come to a halt at NIH, ( National Institutes of Health ) and that the Office of AIDS Research ( OAR ) at NIAID ( National institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease ) which delegates all funding for AIDS "is a demoralized, non-functioning mess."
OAR's director, Dr. Jack Whitescarver ( a gay man, no less! ) has evidently done a terrible job, funding useless ( i.e.safe ) grants and side-stepping those toward a cure and vaccine ( i.e. controversial ). He alone has the ability to switch grants around among all the various institutes that pretend they are working on AIDS. He is retiring July 1st when a new OAR director will be identified. If past history is any guide, all new directors call for a complete halt while he investigates where things are. Such investigations to "educate" new directors can take another year at least. It took two years for a previous new OAR director, Dr. William Paul, to educate himself, to little avail: Two precious years were wastedjust as they are being wasted now.
Red tape, red tape, red tape is killing more people than any AIDS treatments are saving.
Is it any wonder that NIAID and NIH are so woefully behind? This plague is 35 years old now. We should know much more about HIV than we do. Why certain vital areas of HIV research have yet to be done!
NIH's director, Francis Collins, has so far refused to meet with usus being representatives of amFar, GMHC, ACT UP, TAG and yours trulyto discuss this horrid standstill and how somehow to emerge from all this strangulating red tape that only increases day by day. Money appropriated by congress for NIH AIDS research is so tied up in the red tape of this mess that even Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID's director and prime cheerleader, has admitted to me that they are "woefully" behind. He claims to be powerless to do anything: OAR is not under his control, even though it's in his institute.
How can it be that the head of an institute has no control over its financing, its ability to fund its research? This has never made any sense to me. It is now apparent that all it really does is allow Fauci to keep his hands clean, wherein he can maintain, when, as we have screamed at him from the beginning, "Tony, get off your fucking ass and do something," that it's not his fault; it's OAR's.
It's really time for dynamic AIDS activism to reignite itself to its former fighting self. I am trying to get media coverage, so far without success. Donald MacNeill of the New York Times, true to the Times' history of not covering AIDS, has said this story doesn't interest him.
So that's where I am today, where the hope for a cure is now today. As you have devotedly written for so long, the health of the world is our biggest tragedy. As I just told the head of one of the African nations as we both shared Yale's honorary degrees, that a cure is as far away as ever, she practically broke down in tears. "But what are my people to do," she sobbed. "We have been waiting for and counting on you." I will never forget the look on her face. It helps to keep my anger going.
It is hard for me not to face the fact that I believe that some sort of intentional genocide is going on. I have been saying this more and more. AIDS ( indeed Ebola too ) is happening all over the world to people other people would just as soon were not here. ( Hundreds of thousands of gay men have died. ) Not one president over these past 35 years has had the guts to deal with AIDS. Not one Congress has been sufficiently supportive. Drug companies are making so many billions of dollars on the current AIDS treatments ( now more and more beginning to show their wear and tear on bodies ) that there simply is no incentive for them to go all out to find a cure.
I consider the behavior of most pharmaceutical companies to be truly evil. To have medicines that can save people and not provide them at less than exorbitant prices to all who need them is greed of an unparalleled sort. This is not capitalismit is selfish and evil. Why have so many people put up with this system for so many years is a question I ask myself every day. Just as I wonder why every person touched by AIDS is allowing NIH, NIAID, and OAR to avoid their responsibility for looking after the health of the American people, as their charter is defined.
But then, like the African president I met at Yale, everyone thinks they are.
Well, they're not.
Laurie, as you have just written, "The world desperately needs a bold, dynamic, scientifically driven World Health Organizationnot a politically cautious, timid, and financially starved health agency."
But tomorrow's dream yields unfortunately today's reality. What do we have to do to get NIH and NIAID and OAR off their respective asses to get us a cure for AIDS? A desperate world is waiting.